A Well-Equipped Daypack For Hikers
For 24-Hour Preparedness On The Trail
Because it's a good idea to have what you need in case the unexpected happens.
Actually, I hope this pack I've put together with the recreational day-hiker in mind will help avoid some of those common problems in the first place. That's why I've included tools to aid with navigation -- a GPS, a quality compass, and two light sources to help you see to move on if darkness catches up with you.
Below are descriptions and features of each recommended item, along with the reasons for including that gear and tips and resources to guide you in its use. You can pick and choose from the contents to build your own 24-hour pack. This is all gear that I carry in my own backpack whenever I hit the trail.
About Me & My Backpack Full of Gear
As an avid backpacker with a 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail thru-hike under my feet and a Search & Rescue volunteer, I've had lots of time for trial and error when it comes to gear. By that I mean not only testing various brands and models but also learning what can happen if one goes into the backcountry without some basic equipment. That experience, along with some questions from other hikers over the years, wondering what I thought they should have in their packs, prompted me to start my own company.
So in January, 2009, I launched my new internet-based company, selling pre-equipped packs for both recreational hikers and SAR personnel. I filled many orders over the years, but due to cost issues with ordering the individual items, assembling the packs and then shipping to customers, I discontinued selling kits as of 2012 and instead now simply recommend these items, which can be purchased from Amazon.
I certainly haven't reinvented the wheel with this list of gear; I've simply taken what I consider essential gear for any hiker setting out on a significant day trip, my favorite brands and models of each of those items, and my penchant for being prepared and put it all together into a recommended 24-hour pack.
But before we move on to what on my list, a little disclaimer is in order...
This 24-hour pack is not intended to replace common sense or skill. Neither is this gear list meant to include the full complement of what someone should carry. It will have to be the responsibility of the user to add any and all food and water, clothing, shelter, technical and other gear he or she might feel is necessary for the outdoor adventure at hand and ensure that all gear is in working order.
One's equipment should always be reviewed and tested before heading out for that hike, and please know how to use all of the equipment in your pack before you go.
That being said, I hope you enjoy every moment you spend in the great outdoors!
I recommend going with the Osprey brand, because I love their packs for their superior comfort, quality and features, including convenient gear accessibility.
As far as which model and size to use, I like the Kestrel 28 for a good-sized daypack. This is a streamlined pack with a top-loading design to help keep gear organized efficiently. This pack comes in two torso sizes--S/M and M/L--and has an adjustable harness to provide a custom fit. At 1600 to 1700 cubic inches in volume and an empty weight of 2lbs/13oz to 3lbs/1oz (for the S/M and M/L, respectively), I feel this is the proper size pack for anything from a short jaunt of just a few hours to an extended day-long trek. This pack has a recommended carry range from 10 to 30 pounds.
Other features of the Kestrel 28 include a "Stow-On-The-Go" trekking pole attachment, stretch Lycra mesh front and side pockets, handy hip belt pockets, an integrated rain cover (stowed in outside lower pocket), a hydration pocket and hole to feed the tube, and front daisies with bungee tie-offs.
Sizing and Fitting an Osprey Pack
For sizing information and instructions on how to properly measure your torso length, the video below. I followed these instructions when ordering my own Osprey packs online, and the packs have always fit well.
It certainly doesn't hurt, when buying a backpack online, to visit a local outfitter to try that same pack on if possible. And bring some items from home (or borrow some from the store) to add weight to the pack to get the feel of wearing it with gear inside.
Another optional item is the GPS. I've chosen to feature Garmin products, the brand recommended the National Association for Search & Rescue (NASAR) and the brand I personally use (although I've "graduated" from this model below to one with some additional bells and whistles).
There are numerous models of Garmin hand-held GPS units, covering a large price range and a wide range of features and storage capacities. Here, I've selected one of the more affordable and basic models, without a bunch of extras. Those interested in a higher-end model, and who may enjoy the enhanced capabilities of those more complex units, can opt for a different GPS that's more to their liking.
To me, the most important functions of a GPS for the average day-hiker are the abilities to set waypoints and do "go-to's" as well as to determine one's location at any given moment and plot that location on a map. And the Garmin E-trex 10 Worldwide Handheld GPS will certainly do that and more. The E-Trex 10 is a dependable, easy-to-use unit, which now offers better accuracy in heavy cover and deep canyons with its new high-sensitivity receiver than earlier models.
Other features of this model include:
- Storage space for 500 waypoints and 20 routes
- Garmin exclusive TrackBack feature to find your way home
- Hunt/fish calculator
- Sun/moon-Rise/set times
- Runs for 20 hours on 2 AA batteries
- Weight: 5 oz. with batteries
- Waterproof to survive an accidental dunk
If you're new to GPSes or have never used this brand and model before, it's crucial to take out the user guide and practice before hitting the trail.
To me, a compass is an even more important piece of gear than a GPS, as long as one knows how to use it of course. Unlike a GPS, a compass doesn't run out of battery power and has a better chance of working if dropped. And it doesn't have to make contact with multiple satellites in order to give an accurate reading.
Now, don't get me wrong; GPS's are remarkable (and fun) pieces of equipment. But electronic gadgets have a greater tendency to bite the dust than do mechanical ones, so I'd say it's a good idea to carry both. Besides, a compass adds only a few ounces to your pack.
Now, I prefer a compass with adjustable declination and a sighting mirror that can double as a signal mirror. The MC-2DLIN Navigator by Suunto fits that bill.
Additional features include:
- Large, easy to read bezel w/ self-cleaning bearings
- Rubber non-slip feet
- Measuring scales
- Luminous points
- Weight: 2.65 oz.
Got a splinter? Need to fix a zipper? Clip a toenail that's driving you nuts? What about some help undoing an extra-tight knot? There are endless uses for the implements that come with a multi-tool, which is why many people--not just hikers--never leave home without one. My husband always has his Leatherman Squirt in his pocket, attached to his key chain, and that small but handy gadget comes out at least once a day. The possible uses on the trail are nearly endless.
I've chosen the 2-oz, 2.25-inch Squirt P4 because it's ultra-compact and lightweight. Other features include:
- Anodized aluminum handles
- Needlenose pliers
- Straight knife
- Wire cutters
- 3 Screwdrivers
- Lanyard attachment
All Leatherman multi-tools come with a 25-year guarantee, so if yours breaks (as long as it's not due to "abuse, alteration, unauthorized or unreasonable use"), you can return it to Leatherman for free repair or replacement. I've made use of this warranty once myself, and the process was easy and quick with no questions asked.
Because most day-hikers intend to be home before dark--and make it more often than not--I've included a light source that one can rely on even if it hasn't been used in years, made by a company one can rely on, too. I've been using Petzl products since I started hiking decades ago, and each time I've tried a new brand, I've ended up back with Petzl.
I say that emergency lighting should be part of any preparedness kit. The light should be compact, lightweight, dependable and high-performance. And it should be ready for use today or next year. You may never need it, but it's good to know it's there. I've been involved with quite a few Search & Rescue missions that wouldn't have happened in the first place had the hiker just had a light source.
The Petzl e+Lite is my pick for a headlamp, because the long shelf-life of the CR2032 lithium batteries means the light will work when needed unexpectedly or on that occasional night-hike.
The e+Lite can be used in all conditions and can be stored with batteries for up to 10 years and still be operational. It shines up to 19 meters and is practical and easy to use, with a built-in SOS signal in the rare case you might need it. This light can shine for up to four days in a row.
Because one light source just isn't enough. Not in my book.
For my daypack, I've included a second, long-lasting light source that takes the same kind of batteries as a GPS--common AA's--so I have to carry just one kind, and they'll be interchangeable in a pinch.
The Gerber Infinity Utra Task has patented Diode Step-up Regulator technology, providing superior luminosity, a 30-foot beam, and up to 100 hours of burn time on just one battery. The 3.25-inch, 2-oz. flashlight also comes with a lanyard and clip for hands-free use. And it's waterproof up to 10 feet, just in case you end up going for a swim.
The First Aid Kit
The Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight and Watertight Kit contains a grab bag of items sufficient to treat most minor injuries and ailments on the trail, until you can tend to them more thoroughly back at home. These kits include:
- (4) 1" x 3" Adhesive Bandages
- 2 Adhesive Knuckle Bandages
- 2 Butterfly Closure Bandages
- 2 Conforming Gauze Bandage
- 2 pkgs 2"x2" Sterile Gauze Dressings (2 each)
- 2 pkgs 3"x3" Sterile Gauze Dressing (2 each)
- Sterile Non-Adherent Dressing 3" x 4"
- 11 Moleskin Pre-Cut and Shaped
- 3 Safety Pins
- Splinter Picker
- Tick Remover Forceps
- 2 After Bite Wipes
- 2 Ibuprofen 200 mg pkgs
- 2 Antihistamine Diphenhydramine 25 mg
- Aloksak Waterproof Bag, 6.75" X 6" 2
This kit comes in two sizes. The list of contents above is for the .9 kit.
Of course, add any personal prescription medications as needed.
For an emergency blow ... and a blow ... and a blow.
The Windstorm whistle is twice as loud as most popular whistles and capable of being heard above howling wind or other competing sounds. It can be heard up to a half-mile away on land and even works underwater, with the sound traveling up to 50 feet.
This is the whistle I carry for potential personal use, but I also have one for using on Search and Rescue missions. It's much more easily heard by the person(s) I'm searching for than the sound of my voice. And it's a lot easier for me to hear someone respond with a whistle like this than if they yell.
The patented double chamber design allows the Windstorm to be blown when held right side up or upside down.
The Map Case
Because you should never leave home without a map.
The Liberty Mountain 11' x 12.5" clear PVC pouch comes with an adjustable cord so it won't wander off. The map case is also a handy place to keep your compass, map tool(s), and a pencil and small notepad.
The Emergency Bivvy
An emergency bivvy may not keep you toasty warm, but it's certainly better than nothing if you get stuck out overnight or need to stay put for a while due to inclement weather perhaps.
Weighing just 3.5 ounces, this emergency bivvy fits in the palm of your hand when stuffed in its bag and is made of reusable, repairable polyethelyne bright orange material. It reflects up to 90 percent of your radiated body heat.
I've spent more than a few nights in this kind of bivvy on SAR missions, and it did the job, especially when paired with the All-Weather blanket below.
The Space Blanket
At just 12 ounces, the All-Weather space blanket is a multi-use piece of gear. There are grommets in all four corners, so you can use your nylon cord to rig the blanket up as a tarp, then use your emergency bivvy (above) to keep the cold out.
This amazingly tough laminate of fiber scrim and aluminized plastic reflects back up to 80% of your body heat and can be used as a ground cover or a shelter, as well as to prevent hypothermia.
The Water Bottles
I recommend carrying two 48-ounce, Nalgene Silo water bottles, which are made of 100% BPA-free Polyethylene.
These bottle have a wide mouth for the easy addition of drink mix, with a loop-top cap that stays attached in rough conditions. Nalgene Silos fit nicely in the Osprey Kestrel's outer side pockets for easy access.
That said, any water bottle is better than none, and I always recommend no less than two liters on any hike, if not more depending on distance, temperature and difficulty. I often use Smart water bottles from the grocery store, which weigh less than Nalgenes and hold up under tough use for many hikes.
The Hand and Foot Warmers
I carry two hand warmers and two footwarmers in my own daypack.
HotHands Hand Warmers are air-activated and will provide up to 10 hours of warmth inside gloves, pockets or wherever you feel chilled. All HotHands warmers are made of natural materials, including iron powder, water, salt, activated charcoal and wood fiber. When exposed to air, these materials combine and react to produce heat through a fast oxidation process.
The Foot Warm-Ups are designed to work in low oxygen environments, like inside your hiking boots. This odorless, disposable, nontoxic and nonflammable product is individually sealed in an airtight package to guarantee a shelf life of six years.
Allow 10 to 20 minutes for these warmers to reach their optimal temperatures.
The Glow Sticks
I recommend carrying two, 12-hour light sticks in your pack. These waterproof and windproof 6" sticks provide adequate light without batteries or electricity. The light is produced by a chemical reaction inside the stick when a small capsule is broken, simply by bending it until you feel the snap.
Safer than flares, these glow sticks are nontoxic, non-flammable, and non-heat producing. They are visible up to one mile away and are useful for marking your route ... or perhaps your location to be seen by a rescue helicopter.
The Fire-Starting Kit
A campfire can be a lifesaver, and this I've seen firsthand during Search & Rescue missions. I've witnessed the outcome when a stranded snowboarder was, thankfully, able to burn pine needles for just enough warmth, because he happened to have a lighter in his pocket. And I've seen what can happen when a young, fit hiker sets off for "just a short walk in the woods" on a sunny, winter afternoon without any fire-starting tools at all. Having more than one means of fire-making at your disposal is, in my opinion, crucial.
In my own fire-starting kit, I've included:
- a box of stormproof matches
- a match case with striker
- two emergency candles
- a lighter
These windproof and waterproof matches are easy to light and will burn up to 15 seconds. They comes with a waterproof Match Container.
The Nylon Cord
I've always carry a 50-foot length of Equinox nylon paracord.
Why nylon cord? Let me count the ways ... or at least just a handful of them:
- Emergency boot or shoelace replacement and other repairs
- Rigging your All-Weather blanket (see above) as a shelter
- Lowering or raising your pack
- Useful in making an improvised splint
- To hang a "bear bag" if you have to spend the night
The Stuff Sack / Dry Sack
By Outdoor Research
This piece of gear is for keeping your "stuff" and extra clothing dry and organized.
I like the Outdoor Research brand ultralight dry sack, made of super lightweight but tough sil-nylon with fully sealed seams and a roll-top closure, keeps moisture out and your gear in. But any brand of "dry" stuff sack will do.
I never leave home (for the trail) without at least one ... but more often two ... of these. They weigh next to nothing.
The Water Purification Product
If you're going for "just a day hike," chances are you'll be able to carry enough water, right from tap to bottles, to stay properly hydrated for the duration, and you won't need to obtain additional supply from backcountry sources.
But what if things don't go quite as planned, and the hike takes much longer than expected? Or what if it takes more water than you're carrying to quench your thirst or that of your hiking buddy who's been eyeing your water bottles for hours?
That's why I always carry some kind of emergency water purification product even on a day-long outing. One option I prefer are chlorine dioxide tablets, namely Aquamira Water Purifier tablets. Each tablet purifies 1 liter of water.
Aquamira Water Purification Tablets release a powerful germacidal agent when dissolved in water, meeting stringent EPA guidelines and making it the safest solution on the market. Each tablet is sealed in an individual, child-resistant foil pouch. To use, simply drop a tablet into one liter of water and wait the required time.
Another lightweight, compact item for purifying water is the Sawyer Mini. You can screw it right onto the top of a water bottle and drink the water through the little filter. There's also a straw attachment you can use. I've taken the Sawyer on several backpacking trips.
Here's a Look at the Sawyer Mini
The Toilet Kit
So you don't have to dig a cat hole with your heel or hiking pole ... or use leaves.
I recommend a lovely orange, plastic trowel like this one here, a roll of Bio-Wipe Toilet tissue and a small bottle of hand sanitizer.
For more information on the use of these items, see the section called "The Notorious Cat Hole and The Art Of ... Well, You Know" from my page on "Hiking the Appalachian Trail: What You Really Need To Know."
These are the additional items I recommend for your daypack:
- A pencil for marking points on your map and making notes
- Small notepad for taking and possibly even leaving notes; you just never know when you'll need or want to write something down
- Storage baggies for keeping things organized and dry
- Large, heavy-duty garbage bag for additional protection from heavy rain, both inside your pack and on your person as an emergency rain poncho
- Extra AA batteries
What's Not Included in The Above Gear List
More items you'll need and some others you should seriously consider packing with you....
The number one thing not included in these 24-hour packs is common sense. In fact, good judgment saves more people than any piece or combination of equipment. On the other hand, poor judgment can kill.
But when it comes to gear, here is a list of items I strongly recommend adding to your pack, or at least considering before you set out. And some of these things will, of course, be on you to begin with:
- Fleece jacket or pullover
- Loose-fitting nylon pants (or convertible pants with zip-off bottoms)
- Synthetic shirt
- Synthetic thermal underwear, top and bottom
- Gortex jacket and pants (Coated raingear is fine but will "sweat" and soak you from the inside)
- Down vest or jacket
- Wool or synthetic socks
- Sun hat (or ball cap with bandana)
- Ski hat
- Light to medium weight ankle-supporting hiking boots
- Cold-weather gloves/mittens or glove liners
- UV-rated sunglasses
- Extra socks
- Extra clothing change for wet weather
- Appropriate forest map
- Appropriate topographic map
- Safety pins
- Needle and dental floss or monofilament fishing line (for repairs)
- Duct tape, 10 feet (can be wrapped around water bottle or trekking pole)
- Adjustable trekking poles
- Small stove, pot, cup and spoon
- Food and electrolyte replacement (drink mix)
- Lightweight down sleeping bag
- Cell phone (fully charged!)
- Camera (optional but nice)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.